The interaction between police and nine Amherst teens lasted nearly an hour, but a 46-second video has brought the debate of police interactions in front of the municipality’s Town Council.
A report filed with the Amherst Town Council on Monday by Pamela Nolan Young, the director of the town’s Department of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, detailed the events of the night, which happened on July 5, and explored the question of whether police actions that night rose to “abuse of power.”
The incident happened at 12:31 a.m. during a late-night stop by police in response to a noise complaint to an apartment complex on Main Street in Amherst. The report states that at least three of the nine teens were Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
None of the youth were charged with crimes, nor were any arrested, but city officials and town residents have rebuked police officers for detaining and telling the teens they had no rights due to their age.
“As a juvenile, you don’t have rights at this point,” one police officer said in the 46-second video. “You’ve lost it; you are not an adult.”
In response to the incident, the town’s director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officially sought a review. The Human Rights Commission filed a complaint with the Amherst Police Department on July 21 alleging an abuse of authority. The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee issued a letter of condemnation on July 29.
According to an analysis presented by Young, she wrote, “A simple definition of abuse of power from the United States Department of Justice is ‘the misuse of a position of power to take unjust advantage of individuals, organizations, or governments.’”
“While the words of one of the responding officers were incorrect, the reported actions of the officers do not indicate an abuse of power. The youth were not placed under arrest, nor was a citation given. The officers made sure the youths left in the custody of a parent or guardian, as required for juvenile operators,” it added.
The report concluded that one of the police officers responding to the noise complaint erred when the statement “you have no rights” was made towards a teen during the incident. “This error does not equate to an abuse of power,” Young said.
Pat Ononibaku, chair of the advocacy group Progressive Coalition of Amherst and a former member of the town’s Community Safety Working Group, said during the meeting Monday night that she found faults in the report because it contained many inaccuracies.
“When I listen to tonight’s presentation, and when I read the report last night, for me — as someone who has intimate information, first-hand from both the kids and the families — I feel that the Amherst Police Department put out an incorrect narrative,” Ononibaku said. I feel the presentation tonight was attacking our innocent youth who did nothing wrong. I also feel that the misconduct of the two police officers were vigorously defended tonight and it’s very sad.”
Ononibaku said that there were more youths of color involved in the incident than were represented in the report. No formal complaints were filed by the parents because they said there is a lack of trust between the families and police, Ononibaku said, adding that she knows the families personally.
She added that the incident only de-escalated once a white parent of the teens showed up even though there was another parent present at the time was of color.
“There was a parent who doesn’t speak English who had no translator that night,” Ononibaku said. “There is no information about that.”